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Adhere to Caution not Panic on Bird flu: CDC Advises

Bird flu

Avian influenza has been detected in a dozen states this spring, primarily putting farmworkers at risk. However, experts warn that not adequately protecting these workers leaves the broader population vulnerable.

Federal authorities advised people to be “alert but not alarmed” about the current bird flu outbreak during a Thursday call with reporters. Two new reports released Thursday provided additional details about the spread and status of the “highly pathogenic avian influenza.” The virus has infected cattle on more than 90 farms in 12 states since late last year, and three people have contracted the disease from cattle. These infections have been widely reported.

“We should take these data and understand them in context. We should be alert, but not alarmed,” stated Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials noted that 11 of the affected farms have requested funding from a federal program designed to encourage cooperation with public health measures among farmers.

Currently, farmworkers are the only group considered at high risk for bird flu, which does not pose a significant threat to the general public unless it evolves to allow person-to-person transmission. Presently, the virus can only be contracted through direct exposure to infected animals.

However, as more animals become infected, the risk of the virus mutating and becoming transmissible among people increases.

To mitigate this risk, “we should apply lessons learned from reducing farm-to-farm transmission among poultry to dairy farms,” said Dr. Raj Panjabi, former White House Senior Director for global health security and biodefense. Under his leadership, federal agencies implemented a “defend the flock” approach to slow the outbreak among poultry. Now, Panjabi emphasized, we need to “gird the herd.”

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